A Fruit Tree Care Dream Team in Toronto’s San Romanoway
They battle the odds. They never give up. They work together to make a difference. That’s the energy of San Romanoway’s “Dream Team,” the 2016 students and graduates of Orchard People’s Beginner Fruit Tree Care Training Program working together with their colleagues who graduated in 2015.
This group has done it all…they have climbed tall neighborhood fruit trees to remove diseased branches. They’ve worked together to thin out branches and improve air circulation in older trees. They are comfortable on a ladder, with a pole pruner or hand pruner or with a digging shovel in hand.
But their adventure began with a dream – the dream of bringing food security, greenery and growth to the Toronto community of Jane and Finch, which has long been challenged by poverty, youth unemployment and crime. This training, and the newly planted orchard on the property, has brought a new dimension to the lives of young people in this community and the possibility of new fruit tree adventures for years to come.
How it all Began
The fruit tree care training program is part of a dynamic initiative called the San Romanoway Towers Revival Project which aims to boost sustainability and food security on this property that is home to thousands of people who live in privately owned condos or low-income housing.
Spearheaded by the Toronto and Region Conservation Association (TRCA), the program was made possible as the result of support from amazing groups such Metcalfe Foundation, Toronto Hydro, Boise Project UP and W. Garfield Weston Foundation. The program has been implemented with the support of FoodShare and my company Orchard People Fruit Tree Care Consulting and Education.
Planting fruit trees in public spaces is no longer a new thing in North America. What was different in this initiative is that the TRCA felt that it was not enough to plant the fruit trees and hope for the best. So they included Orchard People’s Beginner Fruit Tree Care Certificate Program for residents to teach them how to care for their trees.
Fruit Tree Care On Site and Off
The Beginner Fruit Tree Care Certificate Program consists of 9 two-hour classes. The students learned theory in the classroom but spent at least half of the 18-hour program out of doors, using their new skills in hands-on fruit tree pruning and care.
We visited neighbourhood gardens to work on privately owned fruit trees of all ages. Often local homeowners, like Wilson Mosquera, had been encountering problems with their trees like fruit tree pest and disease problems and poor fruit production. Wilson and his family had apple, cherry and pear trees in their lovely garden. But his fruit trees trees were not thriving.
The students came, sterilized their tools and got to work. They removed larger diseased branches with a handsaw. They improved the air circulation on the trees and promoted growth by removing smaller branches with hand pruners, loppers and pole pruners. Over two hours the fruit trees looked very different. Wilson and his family were impressed.
“It was a surprise there was such help available for people (with fruit trees). The students talked to me and clarified all the things I didn’t know about how to care for my trees. It was a beautiful experience. Before I had a few issues with my trees, now (after the student’s work) they are doing well. Now one of my apple trees has produced so much fruit that the branches are starting to be heavy,” Wilson says.
Drought, Hail and Other Fruit Tree Challenges
But this year’s course came with many challenges. For instance, planting day was scheduled for May 15th and our goal was to plant 14 bare root fruit trees in the San Romanoway Orchard. But that morning there was an unseasonal wind and hailstorm! The students showed up ready to go to work anyway, but due to the terrible conditions we rescheduled the planting for the following day.
The next challenge was drought. This year we had the driest spring that we’ve had here in Ontario for years. This, coupled with delays in setting up the orchard’s irrigation system, made it challenging for the group to irrigate the orchard’s young trees. But even that didn’t stop the San Romanoway Dream Team, who met in the orchard multiple times a week to water the trees using water from the site’s rain barrels or carrying heavy buckets of water from the nearby community vegetable plots.
The students faced a fireblight breakout in their orchard as this nasty bacterial disease has been spreading in various locations in Toronto. And in another experience they found that an apricot tree planted years ago on the site was covered with a fruit tree pest called scale. That tree was removed to protect San Romanoways newly planted orchard. All this gave the students a glimpse of the challenges fruit tree growers can face and how important it is that you know how to protect your orchard with proper care.
And yet, despite the challenges the San Romanoway Dream Team was amazing. They worked together. They came up with solutions. And the fact that the young trees on the site are growing well today is completely the result of their knowledge, teamwork and dedication.
Click the arrows above to see the graduates on graduation day!
Graduation, Tools and Student Jobs
After a whirlwind course, graduation day for the 10 students of San Romanoway’s 2016 fruit tree care program was Saturday May 21st. We met in the beautiful orchard in nearby Downsview Park. Planted 5 years ago, this was an opportunity to see how their fruit trees would look after five years of proper care. The day was sunny and lovely and the team brought family and friends to join in the fun.
Over the duration of the course the students had learned everything from fruit tree pruning, planting bare root trees, pest and disease prevention, and soil management so we started with a 20 question written test on Beginner Fruit Tree Care and a group review of the answers.
Then each graduate went up to accept their Certificate of Completion and a number of gifts including hand pruners and a tool bag generously donated by Corona Tools and a copy of my award-winning fruit tree care book “Growing Urban Orchards” that they can refer to over the years when caring for local fruit trees.
One of the graduates, Marina who comes from Brazil and has a degree in Biology, felt that she learned much more than she had expected in this free course. By the time graduation day arrived, she realized that completing the course was an achievement.
“Graduation day was so much fun. I felt it was a big accomplishment. It was good to do the test to see that I really learned the content of the course. It felt complete – the test, the get together and the opportunity to do even more hands on pruning. Then we got our free tools and the graduation certificate. I felt very satisfied that I achieved something,” she said.
The site was beautiful. There was lots of great food and celebration. And the students left empowered with knowledge that they can use in the future in caring for the San Romanoway Orchard or caring for other neighbourhood trees. The training also opened up the door to paid work for a number of the graduates:
- Rosalyn Endlich was hired for a full time summer job caring for the orchard in Downsview Park where she is caring for 200+ fruit trees.
- James Hackman and Saraswathy Jesudasan were given an honorarium for leading the stewardship activities in San Romanoway’s young orchard.
- I hired Lisa Forsyth and James Hackman to help me during a planting day in another community orchard in Scarborough.
The Only Way to Develop Fruit Tree Care Skills Is to Keep Using Them
I loved working with the San Romanoway Dream Team this year and I loved working with last year’s fantastic graduates. Their enthusiasm, focus and energy is inspiring. My hope is that they will keep honing and developing their tree care skills by practicing and using those skills each year, caring for San Romanoway’s young trees and for other trees in the community. My students know that if they ever have any questions or concerns, they can always reach out and ask me. I will always encourage them to continue this important work.
So congratulations to the San Romanoway Dream Team! It’s been such an honour to work with you. Wishing you lots of rewarding fruit tree care adventures in the years to come! Hoping you will keep in touch!
Susan Poizner is the Director of Fruit Tree Consulting and Education Company Orchard People. She is the author of the award-winning fruit tree care book Growing Urban Orchards and the creator of the award-winning online fruit tree care training program at www.orchardpeople.com.